Daily | Cannes 2014 | David Michôd’s THE ROVER

The Rover

Guy Pearce and Robert Pattison in ‘The Rover’

David Michôd’s The Rover “could perhaps be labelled dystopian ozbilly noir,” suggests the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw: “violent, alienated, self-consciously speckled with gruesome little details. His first feature, Animal Kingdom in 2010, was a powerhouse gangland thriller set in Melbourne; hopes couldn’t have been higher for this followup movie. But expectations have to be managed downwards, a little. The Rover is an undoubtedly atmospheric and brutal drama set in an apocalyptic future after a ‘collapse’: the endless bush has telegraph poles on which crucified bodies are displayed from some unspecified insurgency or crackdown and the economy now depends on US dollars. It has something of a surlier, meaner Mad Max, a flavor of Australian New Wave pictures like Wake in Fright, and even something of Spielberg’s Duel. After a terrific start, the film begins to meander, to lose its way, and its grip.”

“As recycled as many of the individual images here may be—it’s populated almost entirely by bloodied, grizzled, sweaty men with guns enacting eternal violent rituals of pursuit and vengeance against forbidding, lifeless landscapes—Michôd has nonetheless developed a very specific setting for his elemental drama,” writes the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy. “Ruffians, many of them foreign, can’t find work and so have turned to crime, no authority is in place to keep order and people who might once have been warm and welcoming have turned wary; everyone seems to have, and need, a gun at hand. With all these grim geo-political conditions serving as backdrop, the foreground action is as elemental as that of a thousand old Hollywood Westerns.”

“Michôd’s sophomore feature isn’t exactly something we’ve never seen before,” grants Variety‘s Scott Foundas, “but it has a desolate beauty all its own, and a career-redefining performance by Robert Pattinson that reveals untold depths of sensitivity and feeling in the erstwhile Twilight star…. Exactly what has gone wrong in the world… is never explicitly stated here; nor are the motivations of the film’s taciturn central character, Eric (Guy Pearce), up until a deftly handled and unexpectedly moving final scene…. Those looking for big action and bombast will inevitably be disappointed, but Michôd (who also wrote the script, based on a story he conceived with actor-writer-director Joel Edgerton) strikes an eerie, unsettling tension early on and rarely lets go.”

But for Jonathan Romney, writing for Screen, “overall this is a disappointing film that loses dramatic momentum after an arrestingly grim first act.” He also isn’t buying that final revelation, noting that “viewers may well feel cheated to have come so far for such a bathetic (or at least bathetically handled) payoff.” What’s more, “film’s weak link is Pattinson, not because it’s a bad performance, rather it is a familiar one, a mumbling hick who seems to be channeling the mannerisms of Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade.”

At the Playlist, though, Jessica Kiang calls The Rover “a fascinating movie, flawed but occasionally brilliant… Bleak, brutal and unrelentingly nihilist, and with only sporadic flashes of the blackest, most mordant humor to lighten the load, it feels parched, like the story has simply boiled away in the desert heat and all that’s left are its desiccated bones. In a good way.”

But for Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, “the movie barely amounts to more than a homage…. Michôd’s commitment to unsympathetic storytelling and hardened characters allowed Animal Kingdom to maintain palpable dread at every moment. In The Rover, the empty tension dissipates with time.”

Natasha Braier‘s cinematography (the film was shot on Super 35mm film) is bleak and bright,” grants HitFix‘s Drew McWeeney, “Antony Partos contributes a very simple but effective score, and Jo Ford’s production design tells much of the story simply by virtue of the spaces these people occupy.” All in all, though, for Michôd, “this is more of a stutter than a step forward.”

“Several members of the press have advanced the notion that The Rover finally proves Pattinson’s acting chops,” notes Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan, “though I think he already acquitted himself admirably two years ago when he starred in David Cronenberg’s Cannes premiere Cosmopolis. What they really mean is that The Rover lets Pattinson be butch for once, waving around a gun and caking his face with blood and dirt.”

The Los Angeles TimesKenneth Turan talks with Michôd, who tells him “I was worried that the actors would die.” Temperatures out in the South Australian outback can (and did, right before the shoot) rise over 120ºF (50ºC). Fortunately, just in time, they dipped to “within the spectrum suitable for human life.”

The Rover

‘The Rover’

Updates, 5/18: “While there’s no doubt Michôd was striving for something primal and mythical in The Rover,” writes Michał Oleszczyk at, “there is a sense the film is searching for its meaning as it goes along, which ultimately leaves the viewer clueless. The tone varies form a violent morality play to an absurdist poem, with people reduced to disposable objects… There is a huge amount of talent on display in The Rover, and the opening ten minutes is as captivating as anything you’re likely to see at the movies this year…. Unfortunately…, the final showdown is an unwitting symbol for the film’s irresolution.”

“Performances are pitched just right between hard-bitten and mournful,” notes Sophie Monks Kaufman at Little White Lies. “Guy Pierce, as all know, has [‘stoic’] grizzled down to a fine art, while Pattinson manages his new non-heart-throb ground (the make-up team have wrought merry hell on his teeth) with admirable pathos.”

Update, 5/19:The Rover is a dirge,” writes the Telegraph‘s Tim Robey. “It’s much more like 2009’s The Road—directed by Michôd’s compatriot John Hillcoat—than anything Mel Gibson was up to. It’s a spare and pensive reflection on violence, slowing down to contemplate its pile-up of human wreckage, rather than accelerating, in any hell-for-leather way, to try and cause more.”

Updates, 5/21: “Among critics,” writes the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd, “I’m in the extreme minority in thinking little of the Aussie director’s last movie, Animal Kingdom, which struck me as generically brutal crime fiction dressed up (down?) to look like something unique. That’s not entirely untrue of The Rover either—it’s got plenty of macho postures and sudden, vicious violence—but the film borrows from better movies and shrouds its clichés with a more attractive veil.”

For Jordan Hoffman, writing at, The Rover is “a dark, dreary and dull ‘Mad Max in Neutral’… that tries to pass off its blunt narrative and repetitiveness as some sort of style. Its finest quality is actually that of a soporific.”

“Whilst not quite on the same level of his debut, Michôd’s sophomore outing is still a high quality piece of work and an original take on a glutted genre,” finds John Bleasdale at CineVue.

Update, 5/23: “Between this and his low-wattage limo driver in David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, Pattinson seems to have made a crucial course correction from iffy stardom to inarguable skill,” writes Wesley Morris at Grantland. “He’s decided to act, which is smart, because he really can.”

Update, 5/24: “What makes The Rover, which will be released in the U.S. on June 13, worth seeking out is Pattinson,” suggests Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed. “The performance isn’t just lively, egoless, and out of Pattinson’s usual wheelhouse, it’s surprisingly convincing.”

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